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Chapter 1 to a book to show that protagonist is an atheist - she is later converted.
- “Why don’t you believe in God?” Andy asked her, somewhat accusingly. He had barely sat down next to her at the table in the dorm cafeteria and gone through introductions, and already they were launched into a heated discussion.
It was the second week of college in her sophomore year, and she was just starting to recognize the faces of people in her new dorm. As usual, she had been eating lunch in the dorm cafeteria by herself, trying to look busy and avoid socialization by burying her head in a book. She had always been shy, but it had certainly not helped that she had lived her first year in college off-campus and was one in 20,000 attending large anonymous classes.
Andy had approached and asked if he could sit with her. She recognized him as the guy living two doors down from her. They had started off with the normal chit-chat about personal background, courses that semester, and careers, which revealed that he wanted to become a Christian preacher.
This had immediately made her feel a bit uncomfortable. A firm atheist, she had never understood why anyone would ever want to become a preacher. He didn’t fit her description of a preacher – he was vivacious and loquacious, not too bad-looking, and from the little she’d heard him talk in the hallway, she knew he liked to voice his strong opinions about football and politics, being a republican, like most of the people here. In other words, a good ol’ red neck, as far as her pithy knowledge of American culture went. It was a bit of a pity that a smart and good-looking guy should end up that way. She politely asked how his degree would inform his work. He explained that although getting a degree was unnecessary for reaching his goal, an education was always worth getting. She could agree with that, at least.
Before she knew it, he was asking her about her personal religious beliefs. And as expected, when she admitted that she was atheistic, or at least, agnostic, he demanded to know why.
She gave him a diplomatic smile. “Listen, no offense, but it’s not really worth explaining. I don’t want to get into a long discussion right now. I’ve been through this a dozen times and it never gets anywhere.” She was so tired of these people who wanted to “save her soul.” The assumption, of course, was that she was going straight to hell. It didn’t matter that they knew absolutely nothing about her, whether she was a serial killer or a saint, a religious fanatic or a die-hard atheistic scientist. If the answer to “Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” was “no”, then she was automatically in for a lecture that day.
At first, she found it mildly amusing to see the consternated look on the face of the brave person trying to save her from eternal damnation, as that of a doctor trying to gently break the news to his patient that he was terminally ill. One thing was for sure, they truly believed what they were preaching. A couple of them had even approached her on account of her supposedly beautiful aura. She found this rather intriguing, but wasn’t really sure how to take it. If they truly did see some kind of aura, she supposed it was somewhat flattering to have a nice-looking one. But with every new sermon, she grew more and more weary of their attempts to impose their beliefs on her, and more than that, she grew frustrated at how little they cared that their beliefs made absolutely no scientific sense. She had decided that in the end, there wasn’t much point in paying too much attention to their nonsense.
So here she was, sitting in front of another “soul-saver,” despite her best attempts to stay away from them. She hadn’t realized Andy was one of them. He continued with his interrogation. She realized with a sigh that she had to ride this one out.
- “It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It never has. And nothing has ever been proven scientifically. Why do YOU believe in God?” Now that she had her foot in the door, she figured this was the perfect opportunity to turn the tables. It was her turn to finally interrogate one of them. She had been trying to figure out these people’s psyche for a long time. Now was her chance to deconstruct and analyze the components of his faith by trying out some of the fool-proof arguments she had been accumulating over the last year or so. He took the first step.
– “Look all around you. Where do you think all of this came from?” She looked around, unimpressed at the surrounding students sitting at cafeteria tables, and the trees and sky visible through the windows.
- “How does all this prove the existence of God?” She said, gesturing towards her surroundings. “This can all be explained through the theory of evolution. All matter was created through the Big Bang and stars, life can be explained through natural selection, etc…” Then, looking around at the books, laptops, tables, and unappetizing processed cafeteria food, she added: “Anyway, Most of THIS stuff was made by man. What makes you think some kind of creator with a human-like mind had anything to do with it?”
He was ready with his answer.
- “It’s written in the Bible.” He stated this as the perfectly obvious proof to God’s existence. She stared at him blankly, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t.
- “Ok….” She decided to dig a little deeper. “So why do you believe that everything in the Bible is true? I’m sure the Bible was great back in the days when people were superstitious and had no other means through which to understand their environment. But let’s face it, it’s just an outdated old book.”
But he was ready with an answer to this observation that sounded to her as equally dim as his first one.
- “The Bible was written by God. The prophets were directly inspired by God, he told them exactly what to write.” This was going to take a while, she realized.
– “I see. So….God is real because it says so in the Bible, and the Bible is true, because…God wrote it…” She paused to observe his assessment of this illogical statement, but did not get any reaction from him. Her frustration was starting to get the better of her now.
“ – You don’t see anything wrong with what I just said?” she said, staring at him quizzically. Apparently he didn’t. She threw her hands up in the air.
“It’s circular thinking!!! Don’t you see that you’re going around in circles? How do we know God is real? The Bible says so! How do we know the Bible is true? God wrote it! And you’re back where you started! Does it rest on any solid proof, is it at all linked to reality in any way?!?”
He seemed a bit taken aback by her sudden rant but still seemed nonplussed by the debunking of his belief system. Seeing that she would not get any response from him, she moved on to her next argument.
- “What about the fact that there are so many other religions? They can’t ALL be right?”
- “They’re not. Christianity is the only true religion. All the others are false.”
- “I see.” She said, barely veiling her sarcasm. “They’re all wrong? And what makes you think that you have the right one and everyone else in the world is mistaken?”
After a few seconds of reflection, he calmly gave his answer.
- “I just know it.” He said nobly, sticking his chin up.
Of course you do - she thought sarcastically. Typical. The stronger their belief in an all-loving God, the more self-righteous and judgmental they were.
She sighed. - “EVERYONE” she said emphatically, “just knows it” - she said, using her hands to make it clear she was quoting him. “EVERYONE is convinced that their religion is the right one and everyone else’s is crap.“ She gave him a cynical look. “And what makes you so special that yours happens to be the right one?”
He finally seemed a bit disconcerted.
“-Well what’s your answer?” he retorted.
She shrugged. “-Kids believe everything their parents tell them. They still don’t know enough about the world to know the difference between fantasy and reality.”
“- But then why do their parents believe in it?”
“ -Because their parents told them the same thing when they were kids. And then they figured that since their parents believed in it, as well as the rest of their society, it must be true. And then they use bogus arguments like the ones you’ve been giving me to support their beliefs and teach their kids the same thing. I mean, how would you feel if your religion was only followed by a handful of people and it was considered totally loony by the rest of society? Would you still believe in it as strongly?
He considered this and gave what he must have thought was a laudable answer.
“ – Yes. In fact, it would only increase my fervor, because I would have to fight to bring so many more people to the light. Anyway, Christianity started off that way. It’s been around for over 2000 years. If you read the Bible, you’ll find out about all the miracles that happened to prove that Jesus is the son of God. Like this guy in the Bible, to prove to his enemy that his god was real and his enemy’s wasn’t, threw him a challenge. He told them: “if your god is real, let him light this fire.” They couldn’t, but his god could.”
Ah yes, the whole miracles argument. As far as she was concerned, the miracles in the Bible might as well have been fairy tales. They were in the same league as “The Odyssey” and other Greek mythological tales. She couldn’t understand why people didn’t take them on the same par.
“ - Big deal. Even if that were true, it would only prove that his civilization discovered sulfur or some other flammable material before the other one did. You don’t understand how people thought in those days. Listen, I’ve lived in eight countries. Many of them developing. And I can imagine how people back in those days of the Bible thought and lived. To be honest, it probably wasn’t that different from the way people in a lot of developing countries think and live now. People are superstitious, they’ll believe anything. Even my cook and my gardener in Benin kept on trying to throw voodoo curses at each other. And they were exposed to Western culture and influenced by it. My driver even had a high school education, and in science, at that. Sorry - but it doesn’t take much for people to believe baloney.”
He didn’t say anything. Now she had gained momentum.
“You know, I understand how people in developing countries can be stuck in ways and superstitions of the past – they’ve had nothing to refute their religious beliefs and accompanying mythology.”
She leaned forward, looking into his eyes/scrutinizing him. “But I just don’t understand how someone in a developed country, with a first-class education, and the tools to understand our world, who’s going to one of the best colleges in the country, can still think this way. There’s just no excuse for it.“ she said pointedly.
He must have gotten the hint that she was talking about him, as he retorted back: “Well, what do YOU believe in?”
That was a good question. She didn’t really believe, in the sense of having faith, in anything. She had learned to question everything, to think critically, and to draw from the wisdom of the scientific method. One of the only stable things in her ever-changing life as she adapted to different cultures every few years had been the eternity of mathematical equations, the universality of fact-based science. She figured that was as good an answer as any. “I believe in science. Things that can be proven.”
He seemed to be as unimpressed with her answer as she had been by his. “Your science is just like any other religion.” he said offhandedly.
His attutide and ignorance was disparaging and scandalous to her. “Science is NOT a religion! It’s the OPPOSITE of a religion! Science is based on hard-core facts. Faith never enters the equation, by definition.”
- “Really? Well how do you know it’s real? You’re still choosing to believe one person over the other. Where do you get all these supposed facts from anyway?” He said, slightly disgustedly.
It was hard to know what to make of his comments. Did he seriously not know the very basics of science or its premises? “What are you talking about? Is this some kind of trick question?” Apparently not, judging from his face. She was unsure whether to go on. All this seemed so obvious to her, but she decided to try to explain it to him as she would to a child. “Listen...people do scientific experiments, with very precise methods and procedures. Then they write up an article with the experiment and its results, including a very detailed description of the methods, get it published in scientific journals, so that anyone else in the world can read the article, repeat the exact same scientific experiment, and they will get the same results.” She looked at him, puzzled. Was this all new to him?
If it was, he didn’t let it show. He paused to reflect on it, and she thought she detected a trace of surprise at the reasonableness of it all - but still, she could see so many things still just didn’t add up in his mind. And she soon found out why when he commented derisively: “According to “science,” our ancestors were monkeys.”
This obvious display of ignorance and contempt for science were appalling to her, but she had become used to it. She had heard this particular argument before, from one of those southern big-haired preachers to his congregation on TV. She could still hear his voice booming into the microphone, his thousands of hypnotized fans lapping up his every word: “You know what I tell these “scientists”? Maybe YOUR grandparents were monkeys, but MINE sure as hell are NOT!!!” His outcry had been met with laughing, jeering, and vigorous head-nodding. She had switched channels, disgusted by this unabashed brainwashing session. If Andy had grown up with gross distortions of facts like these, it was small wonder he mistrusted science. She tried to explain it in simple terms.
“ – Yes – our ancestors were ape-like animals, but millions of years ago. Our last common ancestor with the bonobo, our closest living relative, which is actually 99.6% genetically identical to us, lived over 5 million years ago. It’s hard to understand how long that really is. Think of it this way - do you look different from your parents? “-Yes.” “ - So imagine how different people will look thousands of generations from now. We change a little bit with each generation. That’s how we went from looking like apes to the way we are now.”
“- But the world is only 5000 years old!” he retorted. She corrected him as calmly as she could: “No, it’s between 13 to 16 billion years old.” “And how do you know that?” he said quizzically.
“- Because we’ve done a lot of experiments in science. All the facts add up. We’re able to measure how old light is coming from stars at the edge of the universe thanks to the Doppler effect. The oldest stars seem to be around 16 billion years old. We can do carbon-dating on fossils which shows they’re millions of years old. There are so many different ways of measuring ages for different things, and they all come together to confirm the Big Bang Theory, evolution and natural selection.
He suddenly looked triumphant. “Ha! You see, it’s all theories! It’s all hypothetical! There’s nothing uncertain about God, though. God never wavers, never hesitates. He is eternal. He doesn’t keep on changing his mind about stuff the way scientists do all the time with their “theories.””
It was discomfiting to see how poor his grasp of science was, much less the scientific method. “ -Do you even know what hypotheses are and how the scientific method works? Of course everything is just a “hypothesis” starting out. The law of gravity started out as a hypothesis. It doesn’t mean that if I drop a ball, it might just fly to the sky because it’s been labeled as a scientific theory. Look – science is just a way to help you explain the surrounding world. At first man invented religion to do this – but many came to admit that the multitude of religious beliefs turned were incongruous with each other and even contradictory sometimes. The scientific method puts every single fact of life, every assumption we make, all our “common sense” to the test. Of course theories change! As we discover more and more about our world, we need new theories that take into account these new observations and can correctly predict future behavior based on these observations. We wouldn’t be anywhere without the trial and error inherent in science!” The fact that she had to lay down the obvious, that he had somehow failed to see this for himself, even with the privilege of growing up in a technologically advanced nation, boggled her mind. “I mean, I just don’t understand how you can say science is a religion when you use a laptop every day!! I’d like to see religion make a plane fly in the air…”
He was starting to look slightly unsure of himself, but still ventured some more defenses. “- Well, maybe God is only trying to trick us that the world is 13 billion years old, and the Earth 4.6 billion years old.”
This was just unbelievable to her. “Why would God want to trick us? This is ridiculous. Don’t you see you’re grasping at straws?” She gaped at him in bewilderment a few seconds before bursting out “I mean, don’t you ever THINK?!?! “
Before she could even grasp how incredibly rude she’d been, Andy had stood up with his dinner tray and was staring down at her“- You know what, I’m really offended by that.” He walked away, indignant, as she called after him apologetically, ashamed at her own loss of composure “- I’m so sorry! Um, I didn’t mean that…I was just…” her voice trailed off, knowing he was already out of earshot.
She looked around at the now silent hall. Everyone had stopped eating, eyes fixed on her, mouths open. She looked down at her plate, mortified. Her inner voice piped up sarcastically. “Good going, Sophie. What a great start to the year.”
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